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Week 3
18 April 2007

 b/c biomedicine has ‘colonized’ the body, social theory has taken the path of (and acquired
the space requisite to) assessing how the body is socially constructed and socially produced
 we can no longer think of the body as purely a biological organism

how is the body conceptualized?

 phenomenological perspective.. what are its theoretical concerns?
 John: focus on what the body does over what the body is
 one of the key principles is that you attempt to bracket out any preconceived notions, any
prior knowledge, any presumptions or claims to know what is actually happening
 explicit attempt to lay all that aside.
 and hence you see greater emphasis on what the body does, rather than what the body is.
we don’t know / can’t presume to know what the body in dementia is; we need to know
first what the body does
 watch people navigate through the world
 The Absent Body (Drew Leder) – pivotal work for many working in phenomenology ..
we take our bodies for granted. only in instance of illness or dementia that we actually
acknowledge and can see what is happening to our bodies.
 sociologists, anthropologists, and philosophers contend that we pay attention to the
bodies in ways that are much more basic and embodied than the biomedical approach of
finding what’s wrong. finding out how we live in our bodies, both in health and in illness
 in some ways, this is a difficult notion to wrap our heads around, because for us, the body
is routine, mundane, absent.. it only rears its head when it becomes a problematic to be
 the experience of health and illness is so fundamentally rooted in our bodies
 phenomenology: the body as lived, as a way of being in the world.
 it is within this tradition, this embodied tradition, this focus on the embodied experience
of illness, etc., that social theory attempts to grapple with the Cartesian dualisms
 dualisms/binaries
 these dualisms colonizes the way we think about the world
 Beth: mind-body, heart-head
 diseases labeled as mental, as lacking an organic basis, tend to be disproportionately
diagnosed among women. explicitly medicalized as well.
 Kim: left vs. right
 we gravitate toward thinking in these ways not b/c reality reflects these extremes, but b/c
this kind of thinking says something about our society – our inability to deal with
uncertainty and contingency. to understand and put an organization on our social
relationships with one another
 Linda: genetic vs. environmental
 Erica: visible vs. invisible
 Krista: Scheper-Hughes links all these dualities back to Descartes
 what is meant by nature-culture?
 the way I think about engaged-detached is that the way to know about a disease or illness
is through detachment – a stance of distance – an understanding that when you become
engaged, you lose objectivity. what does it mean for something to be objective, and why
is that seen as a more legitimate way of knowing something? all of these binaries, there
is an illegitimacy placed on one, and a legitimacy placed on the other. epistemological
positions. how is it that we know what we know? one way to claim to know what we
know is to claim to be objective, take objective measurements, perform a genetic test to
see if we have particular genes. there are alternate ways of knowing about a
phenomenon. part of this class is to highlight that certain bases for making claims about
experience or illness are inevitably deemed to be legitimate. how to think about
legitimate bases for knowledge. we’re trying to undo a lot of these dualisms. on a deep,
profound level, this affects the way we think about the world
 the truth of the body lay in its internal nature. and that internal truth could only be
measured in certain ways (scientific measurement). a series of claims made that led
science and scientific medicine to come to such prominence in knowledge of the body.
 Cindy: feminist movement first to challenge the status quo
 social constructionist position – until we put language to something and constitute it..
phenomena we pay attention to are constituted.. in medicine, if language doesn’t’ exist (if
we have subjective knowledge about disease), it’s not significant or a normative part of
our knowledge.. it’s not deemed to be important.
 words and our existing vocabulary come out of a certain way of looking at the world, of
paying attention to certain things and not to other things.
 Scheper-Hughes: worlds organized in vastly different ways.. different vocabularies come
to terms w/ the way they organize their worlds.
 in any school, there’s a whole continuum of the fidelity with which people apply to the
principles. radical social constructionists argue there’s no fact beyond what we deem to
be fact. there are ‘softer’ social constructionists who contend there are some physical
bases for Alzheimer’s or diabetes.. but the extent to which they are significant in one
society or another may differ. that’s the contribution of social constructionism.
 the tension between ‘real things’ and coming to terms with how interpretation matters,
and that there is some element of cultural production we actually do, that tension has
always plagued attempts to theorize about the body. may be a reason why until recently,
sociology/anthropology have been reticent to theorize about the body
 we’ll see examples of the ways in which subjective experience actually does contest the
very science itself
 readings attempt to say that what we consider socially meaningful and the “real” feeling
of experiencing/being in our bodies, it doesn’t make sense to think about perception and
sensation from an organic/biologic view without thinking about experience. Merleau-
Ponty – interpretive vs. biological vs. social vs. etc. oscillation. it doesn’t make sense to
think about cutpoint between organic basis and social/interpretive/meaning-making. you
can’t do one without doing the other.
 Martine: Zola. active vs. passive voice
 when medical sociologists and medical anthropologists wrestled with notions of the body,
that’s when the sociology of embodiment came up – thinking of being in the body, people
as actors with bodies being propelled through the world

 other approaches
 lived body
 John: body subject to legal restrictions
 Cindy: social body, how the body is part of society and culture
 Nettleton calls it (what John was talking about) the regulated body, Scheper-Hughes calls it
the body politic
 Elena: docile bodies of Foucault, body without will
 Beth: body is the central object of society
 people who take up this tradition/scholarship don’t think of the body as being an empty
template to be inscribed or regulated. there is always this interplay .. when you say the
body is political, you don’t just mean campaigns, but that people use their bodies to make
political claims upon the state. Steve Epstein’s work in looking at women and minorities,
and how they were able to mobilize their bodies.. they are different, so clinical trials
cannot merely be done on white heterosexual males.
 Erica: hunger strikes
 in social movements theory, people have started to theorize re: the bases for collective
action is actually with people’s bodies. e.g., people sitting in trees to protest their being
cut down.
 Linda: reproductive rights. Supreme Court banning partial birth abortion
 when we talk about politics, we’re not just talking about our relationship to the state or
traditional political institutions – we’re talking more broadly about the exercise of power,
and our bases for power, and institutions’ bases for power, and groups’ bases for power
 biocapital – biology, biological material, bodies.. the playing field for life, death, health,
disability all become fodder for economic gain and for profit .. for capital as a social
player re: how bodies are conceptualized and thought about.
 Alyssa: Genentech’s profits
 capital in the promissory sense. the promise of those gains that fuels a lot of
technological innovation/intervention. the cultural power, the cultural work that
promissory kinds of capital play in defining what is health or what is illness or how one
gets to health
 Linda: IOM report about the way medicine is practiced. things are only done if they can
be billed. practice of medicine regulated by how it is reimbursed
 regulated bodies – notion of body as a reflexive endeavor/project. how does that enter
into our theorizing about the body?
 Elena: Foucault – making your life a work of art.
 John: doing one’s exercises to get in shape
 body as always-unfinished project.
 deliberate, cultivated, sought-after, celebrated.. even if we don’t make a choice to engage
in physical activity, it’s still a choice.. sense of deliberation/endeavoring, choosing
between our options
 Beth: adornment has always happened
 John: now it’s commercialized
 is commercialization coercive? adornment once very social/cultural, the process almost
as important as the end product. does the commercialization take that away?

 body as reflexive project as notion of body politic. work that we do about our bodies –
how much it says about who we are as individuals. the accelerating extent to which
responsibility becomes wrapped up in how we care for ourselves, and the extent to which
we work upon ourselves. fairly unique to the contemporary time we live in now. we
have a responsibility to monitor ourselves, to work with the social institutions.. to
endeavor to be healthier, wiser, fitter. gets tied up a lot with notions of citizenship. not
just citizenship in the legal sense, but citizenship in a much political and cultural sense.
upon what grounds do we claim to belong? what does it mean to contribute?

Scheper-Hughes and Lock

 society and social order being thought of as being collectively worked upon together. SI
gives sense that things might be otherwise.
 Cindy: witchcraft as “metaphor for social relations” (24)
 Kim: Salem Witch Trials – mostly women who were widowed or single with property. trials
were mechanism of social control
 when they’re talking about witchcraft as an idiom for dealing with social contradictions of
society, they’re talking about a preindustrial society. witchcraft became a way to articulate
those kinds of contradictions
 illnesses came to be somaticized and medicalized
 Amy: for some, genetics absolves people of responsibility
 does stigma come with responsibility?
 -----
 body as symbol/representation; trying to differentiate the pure from the sacred. attempts by
society to come to terms with human variation and the boundaries of the body. all become
intertwined with the ways in which we organize not just the world and the categories of
things, but also the categories of humans. who is included/excluded and on what bases? the
very basis for how we define ourselves and each other. later, we will take up issues of risk
and the unhealthy other.
 John: the role of emotion in linking the Cartesian split.

how does emotion help us in our understanding?

 in many senses, feelings are socially constructed. we’re socialized to react emotionally in
certain kinds of situations. emotions we’re supposed to feel.
 in part it’s a question of: what is an emotion, what is a feeling? are we in fact reinforcing the
Cartesian dualisms that emotions are supposed to undermine?
 what do the different authors say regarding what is an emotion?
 Williams and Bendelow: emotions = intersubjective communication. it’s not just the sense
that emotions are arising from a deep-seated organic cauldron of processes occurring within
individual people – it’s a means by which we communicate with one another. when we talk
about interactionism asserting that society is built up from our interactions with one another,
emotions become – in their minds – a really central ingredient. they do become an action in
a lot of things. it’s a way we can conceptualize what’s going on. what is it that motivates us
to respond to one another or act in the way we do? it’s not just that emotions conceptualize
as a primordial drive, or a hormonal/chemical drive. it opens doors for us to think
theoretically about the means by which we communicate with one another. emotions mean
certain things. we react emotionally b/c we assume it will mean something significant to
another person.
 Nettleton’s last chapter – the sociology of health inequalities as related to the sociology of
embodiment. one of the ways inequalities affect someone is via the emotional reaction to
chronic stress, lack of control over one’s destiny, etc.
 how do understandings of emotions help us understand body/health/disease?
 Murphy and Charmaz: part of the burden of living with an illness is the need to always make
interactions smoother with those who are able-bodied. the emotion management one needs
to do constitutes a core part of the illness experience.

Embodied Deviance – Urla and Terry

 are there ways U&T take up the body as metaphor/representation?
 John: all of culture is a product of the body; “all cultural and psychical differences among
people reside fundamentally in their bodies” (5)
 Martine: “normalcy is parasitic to the construction of deviance” (16)
 attempting to define the boundary between the deviant and the normal. upon what criteria
does one fit in the normative category vs. the other?
 the classification of bodies, the attempts to categorize them, are intimately tied to political
regimes that attempt to control bodies
 even though for the most part they are talking about a new contemporary regime where
deviance is attempted to be regulated and bodies are made to be docile, it has to presuppose a
whole classification system of what bodies belong in what categories. the tendency
philosophically and intellectually to make emotion problematic or somehow illegitimate, to
make subjective experience illegitimate. to take completely for granted what we mean by
objectivity. it obscures that the binary thinking is actually happening, and it obscures the
extent to which this is all a social process. at its basic level, it’s really a social process. we
mobilize these binaries in rather invisible ways, and they do work for us. everyone’s
thinking has been colonized by these binaries.
 in last quarter’s class, we talked about how making the invisible visible .. government needs
to be a transparent practice. that thinking led to valorization of what is material, objective.
that kind of thinking creates the conditions of possibility (Foucault) for biomedicine to
become a powerful way of organizing our thinking and of approaching health and illness